Our Reopening Task Force is currently working hard to make sure that the upcoming reopening of our worship hall will be safe and well-organized. In-person worship service will resume after we receive the approval and certifications by the District and Conference offices. In the meantime, we start with a 40-day 24-hour Nehemiah Prayer Relay, beginning July 1st. We named it after the prophet Nehemiah because we see the need to rebuild the broken walls, our hearts, spirits, and lives. While we coordinate all logistics to reopen our building, we want to be ready spiritually too.
I see signs of reopening on various levels. The renovation of Manhattan Mission Center finally resumed last week. Jubilee Retreat Center/Farm in Upstate NY is now equipped with a tractor, getting ready to plow. A drive-through graduation parade is planned in July to celebrate our children’s milestones. I thank everyone for your faithful service and love for the church while we together navigate these uncharted waters.
Maintaining a safe distance, meeting through virtual platforms are settling in as an integral part of the ‘new normal.’ Human interaction is so vital for our well-being and flourishing, yet it has become difficult and even insensitive to come in close contact with people. All these changes will cost social isolation and struggles of loneliness, and people will thirst for deeper spiritual support. We are gearing up to effectively meet the needs of our congregation through developing both ‘high-tech’ online worship and ‘high-touch’ pastoral care ministries.
Motions are also stirred for social and structural change in our world. Last week, the Minneapolis City Council has decided to dismantle the Police Department. The waves of nationwide police reform are on the rise, and in the coming days, a new direction in policing is likely to replace old perceptions with a new reality. The UK, for example, has ‘police community support officers’ to deal with minor incidents and tackle the fear of crime. As radical as it may seem, the decisive shift has already begun in the US. The calls for change are resounding in churches too. Some in NY Annual Conference recently launched an online petition, “Defund White Supremacy in the New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church,” calling to bring structural racism to an end. While I agree that change is a must, I also think it’s important that we clarify what we really seek in every step of the way.
Slogans and goals dissipate without long-lasting impacts unless the process of change is substantiated with people committed to sound principles and methods. As the first black president of South Africa deeply committed for peace and reconciliation, Nelson Mandela appointed his white predecessor F.W. de Klerk as deputy president. Their cooperation narrowed the racial gap and built a dependable ground for the economy to grow. But the story of Zimbabwe that took place in a similar time period is something very different. Zimbabwe’s then president Robert Mugabe forced out white farmers from their farms as the way to undo the racist inheritance of colonial rule. Not long after, Zimbabwe’s GNP fell down to $2,000, a stark difference from South Africa’s GNP of $12,000. While GNP is not a measure of everything, it’s easy to destroy but hard to build and create. People can say all the right words, but words may not mean much if not lived out with motives that align. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power,” writes Apostle Paul (1 Corinth. 4:20). Mandela’s leadership was exemplary in that he embraced his political opponent and worked together to jointly create a better future. For several years now I’ve spoken out against the deep-rooted problems of northern racism within the NY Annual Conference; but if we really want to confront the structural evil we need to learn from Mandela, not Mugabe. A mismanaged attempt to rid the house of one unclean spirit can end up attracting seven additional unclean spirits, Jesus said.
The plans to dismantle police concern me for similar reasons. Over the years, I’ve repeatedly seen the damage and pain brought upon small businesses amid protests, and especially how much Korean American communities suffer every time. History teaches us that the scapegoating of immigrants has been common in times of crisis and insecurities. But while Trump’s anti-immigration policies based on white supremacy are oppressing top-down, racist abuse and attacks against Asian Americans are coming from sideways, from our neighbors and strangers who inhabit the common grounds.
There is no question that Korean American communities must stand in solidarity to dismantle racism and pursue justice. But seeing how the Covid-19 inflamed racism against Asians and how racial protests gave leeway to violent looting of many of businesses owned by immigrants, I can’t help but think that the time calls for prudence and careful judgment to protect the rights and safety of Korean American communities.
Changes are happening in the church as well as in the world. There is a time to build and a time to tear down. But our problems will keep recurring unless we first look with the eyes of faith, examine how we’ve all played a part in causing pain, and take a time to repent. Jesus calls us all to faith and repentance – not only the evildoers but all who have ears to hear his words and follow his call to love and do good. So let us humbly follow through with fear and trembling, leaving behind the allure of self-righteousness, until the day we will reap the good fruits of our labors.